“Sometimes I wish I could disappear,” I told Father Elton once while I was doing the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises last year.
“Of course you do,” he said. “You want to do as you were told.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“That memory you had of yourself as a toddler, when you were crying and your sibling squeezed your cheeks…”
The image returned in full force: I’m sitting on the couch with my mother beside me. She is holding our baby brother, and my four-year-old sister and six-year-old brother are in front of me. They’re angry. One of them squeezes my cheeks together so hard I feel the flesh pressed against my teeth. I hear: Be quiet! Nobody asked you to be here.
I inhaled deeply and returned to the present, to Father Elton’s kind eyes and safe words.
“You were expected not to exist, something you couldn’t do,” he said.
“But I keep trying.”
I remember the first time I was tempted by the delicious desire to disappear. I felt drawn to float away into an imaginary black hole where nothing was expected of me.
But under that temptation is a deeper desire: the desire to be heard, welcomed and comforted, the desire to be real and accepted.
These are desires God longs to fill and prayer opens up a way for God to do it. That is why Ignatius asked “retreatants”* to spend an hour a day fully present to God.
Each morning I would sit on the couch in my study and ask for the grace I needed to pray with a gospel story and imagine myself in it with Jesus. Then I talked with Jesus about what I saw or felt and listened to his response.
I met with Father Elton weekly and shared what I had experienced in that dedicated time of prayer. “Jesus never seems to get tired of showing me how precious I am to him,” I told Father Elton more than once.
Every time I did, he smiled and nodded, as if he could see me materializing before his very eyes.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
– Psalm 37:4 (NIV)
Questions for your Lenten pilgrimage:
- Are you carrying a painful image from your past?
- Is there someone kind and safe you could share it with?
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